Splitting Top Bar Hives Today

Today yours truly, Big Bear the Bee Doctor (I’m not really a doctor but I play one on TV, so it’s OK), was called to the premises of a very busy Horizontal Top Bar Hive.  The mission: make a split to hopefully help prevent the bees from swarming out un-controlled.

The source colony was very full with lots of drones, lots of capped worker cells.  Signs of swarming were obvious.  At least 6 queen cells were found throughout the bustling colony.  There were very few signs of eggs or very young larvae, indicating that the hive is ready to swarm at any time as the queen seems not to be laying anytime recently to slim down for her flight.

Regardless of whether the queen swarms or not, this hive has not had a close eye kept on it for a bit and really needs to be downsized to allow for more space and to clean up quite a bit of cross and curve comb.

We took bars containing about 3 of the 6 queen cells and at least 2 were very full of capped workers.  At least 1 was honey and pollen.  The remaining 2  were mixed brood  and plenty of nurse bees.  This gave us a total of  5 bars for the split, yet still leaving 3 or 4 queen cells for the source colony (just in case) and at least 7 or 8 top bars with capped brood and workers.

After the split was closed up, we took the time to add some empty top bars to the outside end of the source hive to give them room to build out again.  Then we closed up the source hive to do what they will and let them settle down.

I moved the split to it’s new home and helped the new owner install them into the new Horizontal Top Bar Hive she had prepared for them.  Moving quickly but with lot’s of fluid motion, we got them tucked in quite nicely and even managed to rescue quite a few bees who had gotten stuck in a sugar syrup overflow in the split box (I didn’t realize that someone else who meant well had put a small chicken feeder filled with syrup into the bottom of the travel box).

So the split seems to have a good start for both colonies.  I discussed with both beekeepers how important it is to check top bar hives a bit more frequently than other hives because the bees get themselves into tight spots sooner than in conventional hives.  Issues like cross-comb and curve-comb happen more rapidly in a TBH and so one needs to stay on them more frequently to fix/prevent that.

One thing about swarming in urban areas.  While it’s awesome to behold an emerging swarm and it’s very nice to think that allowing a colony to swarm out into the “wild” is doing mother earth a good deed, please reconsider allowing un-managed swarming in an urban area.

In a city, far too often, the bees you allow to “free swarm” will end up in someone’s house, building, old tree, etc.   When this happens, the owner usually (hopefully) calls me to come get the bees out (hopefully alive) or they call another pest management company who sadly, may just kill them.  Suddenly, that “good deed” ended up in dead bees.  Not so good after all.

In an urban setting, it is far more responsible to manage swarming by doing splits or using certain methods and techniques to control or prevent swarming into “the wild”.

If you’re in a rural/agricultural setting, you can let the girls go with the wind without as much concern for being a “bad neighbor”.

Enjoy your bees.

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